“Accept what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be.”
Being seriously ill or injured can turn your life upside down. More than anything, you just want to get better and resume your normal activities. But what if that’s not possible? What if you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness that has no cure?
When the painful symptoms are here to stay, you have little choice but to learn to accept your new reality. But how do you do that when every waking moment is a cruel reminder that your life is not what you thought it would be like?
Over the last decade, there’s been a strong societal focus on “never giving up”, on keeping going no matter what, on fighting like hell for what you want. And sure, that can be a motivating mindset to deal with challenges like getting a hard-earned degree, training for a marathon or losing those last pounds.
But that mentality doesn’t necessarily help when someone’s faced with horrible circumstances they have little control over, like losing a loved one, surviving a traumatic experience or becoming chronically ill. No matter how much you don’t want it to be true or how badly you want to get better, willpower won’t help you change the situation you’re in.
Many people mistakenly believe that accepting a painful reality means you’re surrendering. That it’s a sign of weakness to stop fighting the truth; that you’re a quitter for no longer struggling every day to get your old life back. They’re wrong.
Acceptance is not the same as giving up.
We’re all so used to resisting negativity and pushing away our feelings with constant distractions, mindless shopping and pouring ourselves another glass of wine, that we’ve forgotten how to come to terms with life’s inevitable adversities. But you can’t outrun your problems and emotions forever.
Facing today’s reality doesn’t mean you give up hope for tomorrow. It just means you make the best of the given situation in this moment, instead of forcefully trying to change something that cannot be changed right now. It’s saying: “Today, this is how I feel and I will deal with it as best as I can.”
You can still wish things will be different in the future, but you accept the circumstances, events and people in this moment as they are. You don’t have to put on your rose-colored glasses or adopt a “glass is half full”- philosophy when everything clearly sucks. It’s ok to feel frustrated, sad and angry; it’s ok to miss how things used to be and to mourn all you’ve lost. You simply stop resisting what is.
But how do you learn to be ok with a reality that breaks your heart?
Acceptance doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not an orderly, lineair process.
When you become seriously ill, you go through different emotional stages, kind of like grieving. There is unbelief and denial, anger and frustration, bargaining and depression. You bounce back and forth between hoping you’ll get better and the despair of having to go through another day of horrendous pain.
If you’ve just gotten diagnosed with a chronic disease, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be ok with that label and everything it implies for your future. It’s normal to go through the rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings described above. Pushing those emotions away only hurts you in the long run.
And hey, maybe you have legitimate reasons to be hopeful. Maybe you need that fighting spirit at this time to adopt a healthy lifestyle and work hard on your own version of recovery.
But when it’s been years since you’ve fallen sick, and you’ve tried every therapy available but nothing works for long, it may be time to face the truth. For now, this is all your body and mind are capable of doing. Constantly focusing on your limitations, symptoms and sadness only causes bitterness and inner turmoil. Accepting things as they are, on the other hand, can help you build a happier, meaningful life despite your chronic illness.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to give up hope of ever getting better. You can still take smalls steps every day towards a better health, just without the constant struggle and the disappointment of not being able to live up to the life you had imagined.
“The secret of change is focusing all your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.” – Socrates
What does ‘accepting your illness’ mean to you? How do you balance acceptance and hope for better days?
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like How to Learn to Accept Your Chronic Illness, Hope in Times of Chronic Illness or Illness and Identity: Redefining Who You Are When Your Health Changes